If you’d like a toned butt and washboard stomach, this is the way to go. Core exercises are ideal to get lean, strengthen muscle and support overall body movement. No equipment and little space required.
What are Core Exercises?
Essentially, you’re using your own body weight. Core exercises target muscles in your midsection. These are the transverse abdominis, multifidus, obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor and glutes. Strengthening these are important for stabilising your spine and preventing risk of injury.
Besides getting lean, there are many other benefits:
- Reduces back-pain
- Improves posture
- Improves balance and flexibility
- Can be performed anywhere
- Builds overall strength
- Boosts your metabolism
Top 10 Core Exercises
Planking requires little movement, but it’s a great way to strengthen your core. It’s good for the biceps, abdomen, obliques, back, butt and thighs.
- Lower onto the floor.
- Place hands directly under the shoulders, like a push-up position.
- Keep your neck and spine aligned.
- Lift onto your toes with fingers spread wide (or lean on forearms).
- Keep your back and legs straight, do not raise your backside.
- Hold the position for 20 seconds. Do not hold your breath.
You can do this for longer periods as you improve.
Variations: side-plank, spider-plank, plank tap, hip-dip, Knee crosses, shoulder taps, T-Stabilization. Check out more techniques.
Push-ups are particularly good for upper-body. They’re effective in building both strength and mental toughness. Push-ups improve pectorals, deltoids, biceps, triceps, abdominals. Even your glutes play a role in supporting you.
- Lower onto the floor.
- Place hands on the floor, under the shoulders (slightly wider width).
- Keep your back straight and your core firm.
- Lift onto your hands and toes.
- Keep your neck and spine aligned. Do not raise your backside or sag your torso.
- Lower yourself until your chin is inches from the ground.
- Push back up into the starting position and repeat 10-20 times.
Variations: Knee push-ups, finger push-ups, hand to elbow push-ups, clap push-ups, wide push-ups, narrow push-ups, slow push-ups. Check out more techniques.
3. Ab Crunches
This is a great ticket to a flat stomach and six-pack. Sit-ups are good too, but they engage the psoas muscles. Ab crunches focus primarily on the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis). This plays a massive role in stability and daily movement.
- Lie down on your back and bend you knees.
- Place your hands across your chest or behind your head.
- Keep your stomach tight, pulling your belly-button towards your spine.
- Squeeze your abdomen. Raise your shoulders a couple of inches off the floor.
- Keep your neck straight. Breathe out as you come up.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower back down. Repeat 10-20 times.
Variations: twist crunches, reverse crunches, scissor crunches, vertical leg crunches, flutter-kicks, star crunches, bicycle crunches. Check out more techniques.
4. Mountain Climbers
This is a great full-body workout. It targets the shoulders, neck, biceps, triceps, chest, spine, abdomen, obliques, hips, butt and thighs. It tests your stamina, coordination, and gets the heart rate pumping. This exercise is commonly used in CrossFit and HIIT.
- Lower onto the floor in a plank position.
- Keep your neck and spine aligned.
- Draw your knees toward your chest, one at a time.
- Increase your pace to a running-like motion.
- Do this for a period that you can manage.
Variations: diagonal climber, spider climber, cross-body, army crawl, jumping, feet elevated, grasshopper. Check out more techniques.
Squats are great for toning up and building your leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings and calves). It also tones your abs and butt. Squats help with mobility and balance and prevent injuries from weak ligaments.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward.
- Keep your neck straight and tighten your abs.
- Extend your arms in front, palms facing down.
- Push your hips back and bend your knees
- Lower yourself slowly, like you’re going to sit on a chair.
- When your thighs are parallel to the ground, raise back up. Repeat 10-20 times.
Variations: squat walk, squat and heel raises, single-leg squat, squat pulses, squat kickbacks, frog squats, side-step squats. Check out more techniques.
Lunges are great for developing your legs. It targets muscles such as glutes, hips, butt, thighs and calves. It stablises your back muscles and improves overall balance and flexibility.
- Stand with your feet together, shoulders back.
- Raise your right leg and take a big step forward.
- Keep the weight in your right leg and drop your left knee.
- Lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your shin vertical (90 degrees).
- Straighten back up and alternate with left leg. Repeat 20 times.
Variations: walking lunge, reverse lunge, reverse lunge-kick, lateral lunge, curtsy lunge, elevated lunge, jumping lunge. Check out more techniques.
Pull-ups are an upper-body strength building exercise. It works the biceps, triceps, rhomboids, deltoids, trapezius, abs, spine and pelvic floor muscles. This is a challenging but rewarding exercise.
- Grab an overhead bar shoulder-width apart, palms facing away.
- Push your shoulders back and tighten your abs.
- Legs together, knees slightly bent.
- Raise your legs off the ground. Pull until your chin reaches the bar (or above).
- Pause, then slowly lower back down.
- Start with one and build up from there at your own pace.
Variations: chin-ups, behind the neck, commando, Australian pull-up, bar hang, reverse pull-up, flexed arms. Check out more techniques.
8. Glute Bridges
Bridges are a well-known exercise for a sexy booty. But it does more than tighten your glutes; it strengthens your back and core and improves posture. Your abs get a good workout too. By having strong glutes, your lower spine and hamstrings won’t overcompensate.
- Lie down on the floor with your back flat.
- Bend your knees and keep your feet flat (hip-width apart).
- Raise your hips and tighten your glutes.
- Lift until your knees are aligned straight with your torso and shoulders.
- Hold for a second, squeeze your glutes and lower back down.
- Repeat 20 times.
Variations: single-leg bridge, elevated bridge, straight-leg bridge, hip thrust, bridge-to-sit-up, camel bridge, table-top bridge, marching hip-lift. Check out more techniques.
Other exercises worth mentioning are bicycle kicks, bird-dog, side-skaters, single-leg sit/stand.
9. Leg Raises
During this motion, the abdominal muscles must stabilize the body. So, it’s a great strengthening exercise for the abs. It also works on the obliques, back, hips, thighs and calves.
- Lie down flat on the floor with your arms by your sides.
- Raise your legs until toes are pointing to the ceiling.
- Lower them most of the way down, without touching the ground.
- Repeat 10-20 times.
Variations: table-top leg press, single-leg dips, single-leg deadlifts, single and double leg raises, hanging leg raise. Check out more techniques.
Other exercises worth mentioning are high-knee toe taps and step-ups.
Don’t swear, it had to be included. Burpees are tough, but they’re an amazing calorie burner and muscle builder. This exercise combines squatting, push-ups and jumping. It’s a full body workout that keeps you high functioning. Great for your arms, chest, quads, glutes, abs and legs.
- Stand up tall and straight.
- Go into a squat position with your hands on the floor in front.
- Lean onto your hands and kick your feet back so you’re in a push-up position.
- Dip your chest to the ground in a push-up.
- Quickly return to a squat position.
- Jump up as high as you can.
- Repeat as many as you can manage.
Variations: burpee pull-ups, burpee knee-ups, burpee box jumps, walk-back burpee, half burpee, burpee knee-tap, single-leg burpee. Check out more techniques.
If those variations aren’t enough, you can add more elements to keep it challenging. Use dumbbells, leg weights, stability ball or resistance bands.
If conditions restrict you with certain exercises, there are modified versions:
- Standing planks
- Knee push-ups
- Standing ab crunches
- Seated abdominal presses
- Standing mountain climbers
- Lunges using a supportive wall
- Standing side-bridges
- Standing leg raises
- Squats using a resistance band or supportive wall
- Squat thrust with chair support
- Assisted pull-ups with resistance band, partner or machine.
It doesn’t have to end there. You can earn extra ‘core credit’ throughout the day:
Suck it in – regularly contracting your abs is a bonus.
Laugh more – this helps your abs, diaphragm and overall mood.
Use your diaphragm – breathing from your diaphragm, rather than your chest, activates the abdominal muscles. This pushes more air into your lungs.
Practice balance – sitting on a stability ball at your desk engages your core and improves posture.
Seize the squeeze – take time to squeeze your glutes now and then.
Incorporating Core Exercises
It’s highly beneficial to add these exercises to your daily routine. Rotate them on alternate days if you wish. Use them in your HIIT routine (burpees and mountain climbers are particularly good). Start small and build your way up. Once you’ve mastered the traditional methods, dive into the variations.
These top 10 core exercises will absolutely help you reach your fitness goals.